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Tuesday, September 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Poor run prompts Columbia River summer steelhead fishing restrictions

Wild steelhead. (Associated Press)
Wild steelhead. (Associated Press)

FISHING -- Restrictions on summer steelhead fishing in the Columbia River Basin were announced today in response to projections of the lowest returns in 37 years.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says fish managers expect about 130,700 summer-run steelhead will return to the Columbia this year, the lowest number since 1980. The forecast is especially weak for wild steelhead returning to the Snake River and the upper Columbia above Priest Rapids Dam.

Following are details from a WDFW release:

To conserve those runs, WDFW plans to reduce daily catch limits, prohibit night fishing, and close sport fishing for steelhead in some waters during months when those fish are passing through.

As before, anglers may retain only those steelhead marked as hatchery fish with a clipped adipose fin and healed scar. All wild steelhead must be released.

Ron Roler, a WDFW fishery manager, said the new restrictions are necessary to conserve wild steelhead protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA)  and to ensure that enough steelhead reach area hatcheries to support future fisheries.

“Many of the fish returning this year were subjected to drought conditions in the Columbia Basin in 2015 and unusually warm water in the ocean through 2016,” Roler said. “We saw the effects of these conditions in last year’s upriver steelhead return, and this year they’re even more pronounced.”

From June 16 through Oct. 31, emergency rules issued by WDFW will reduce the catch limit for hatchery steelhead to one fish per day and prohibit fishing at night in the following waters:

  •          Columbia River, from the Megler-Astoria Bridge to the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco.
  •          Cowlitz River, downstream from the Lexington Drive/Sparks Road bridge.
  •          Lewis River, downstream from the confluence with the East Fork Lewis River.
  •          Wind River, downstream from Shipherd Falls.
  •          Drano Lake.
  •          White Salmon River, downstream from the county road bridge.

For the month of August, new rules require anglers to release any steelhead they catch in those five tributaries and on the Columbia River from Buoy 10 to The Dalles Dam. Drano Lake will also be closed to steelhead retention from Aug. 1 through Sept. 30.

Other sections of the Columbia River will be closed to steelhead fishing from:

  •          The Dalles Dam upstream to John Day Dam in September. 
  •          John Day Dam upstream to McNary Dam during September and October.
  •          McNary Dam upstream to the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco in October and November.

As in the past, fishing for both salmon and steelhead will remain closed from the mouth of the Columbia River to the Megler-Astoria Bridge through July.

These restrictions and other protective measures adopted for the upcoming season are described in WDFW’s 2017-18 Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet, available online at Printed copies of the pamphlet will soon be distributed to sporting goods stores and other license vendors.

Emergency fishing rules that take effect prior to July 1 are also outlined on WDFW’s website at

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering similar rules for that state’s sport fisheries on the Columbia River, said Roler, adding that commercial and tribal salmon fisheries in both states will also be constrained by efforts to conserve summer steelhead this year.

For example, the non-tribal commercial salmon fishery in fall will likely be restricted to six days under a harvest agreement reached during this year’s North of Falcon season-setting process. Last year, that fishery extended for 13 days and has averaged 26 days per year over the past decade.

Tribal fisheries will also be constrained under harvest rates established under the requirements of the ESA.

“Until last year, we had some pretty good fishing seasons for summer steelhead in the Columbia River Basin,” he said. “Now that ocean conditions have shifted – as they do on a recurrent basis – we all have to structure our fisheries accordingly.”

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Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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